It’s not just the monologue that you put out. It’s the ability to create opportunities for a productive dialogue. And looking for and welcoming the contributions of others.

Tom Yorton

To follow up on my previous post on listening and what a Chinese Character can teach us, I would like to share today another insight about active listening.

How do we listen? On what do we focus when we are in a conversation? In a recent training that I did on Conversational intelligence (how the way our conversations can boost our relationships and performance), Judith E. Glaser shared many frameworks, theories and models of how we listen. One that resonated with me strongly is the following: to improve the quality of our conversations, we need to relearn to listen by switching from a default behaviour of listening to respond to listening to understand.

How often are you listening to a friend or a colleague and already visualising or rehearsing what you want to respond long before the person has finished talking? Maybe you even want to interrupt them as what you have to say is so important, or exactly in line with what the person is sharing? We have all been there. This is what is meant by listening to respond. We listen to what the person is saying to be able to respond and keep the control of the conversation. It can come from a place of empathy, as you want to reassure the person that you know exactly what they are going through or from a place of frustration because you absolutely don’t agree with what is being said. No matter the intent, the problem lies in the fact that the moment we start to think about our response, we lose the focus on what the person is trying to communicate in the first place.

When we move to listen to understand, the idea is to stay completely focused on what the person is saying without already preparing a “counter-attack”. In the above short video, Tom Yorton shares an exercise where you have to re-use the last word the person has used. You can also practice listening to understand by forcing you to ask at least one clarifying question: “I’m curious what do you mean by that exactly?”, “You talked about …, what does that mean for you? How did it feel?”. By asking questions, you also take away the pressure of having to respond immediately and you give space to the other person, which has a lot of value. Another behaviour that can support the listening is to take note. This will force you to focus first on what is being said and not what you think of what is being said. To further embed the learning, you can also take a few minutes after your experiment to reflect on what happened. Did it help you to move further or faster? How did the other person feel? Any benefits? What will you continue to do and what will you do differently?

When training for a new habit, it’s important to practice over and over even if at first, it doesn’t feel natural. Like mentioned in the video: “it’s all about training your muscle to get better at the craft of listening.”